South Africa, Politics

LGE 2016: #Ivoted, the Numbers and the Rules

By Marianne Merten 2 August 2016

It’s a thumb’s up for thumb-print selfies but sharing your ballot paper on social media is a no-no: Tens of thousands of party political T-shirts have been dished out, alongside other campaigning paraphernalia. Political parties’ posters adorn many a pole across the country. Millions of rand have been spent on party-political electioneering advertising in print, radio and television. Countless doors have been knocked on on the campaign trail. The politicians’ work is now done. On Wednesday the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) gets to unfold the election logistics it has prepared for over the past two years. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

There are 26,333,353 registered voters who could potentially turn out at the 22,612 voting stations representing 4,392 wards in South Africa’s 278 councils. Add in the council seats voted for on the proportional representation ballot, and the directly elected district council seats, and there are 9,301 municipal seats up for grabs countrywide.

There are 63,654 hopeful would-be-councillor candidates representing 206 political parties. And there are about 1,000 independents contesting the elections, the highest number yet.

It’s a veritable voters’ smörgåsbord. The Western Cape leads in the choice stakes with 77 contesting political parties. To make space for all these, for the first time the Western Cape will use ballots of a different size – A3 – according to the provincial co-operative governance department.

Among the eight metros, Cape Town leads the stakes with 37 political parties vying for voters’ endorsement on the proportional representation ballot, against which pale Buffalo City’s (East London’s) 10 political competitors, the least in any metropolitan area.

The most minor contests unfold in a trio of municipalities in the Eastern Cape, according to the IEC: in Blue Crane Route, Great Kei and Ngqushwa, only three parties have registered for the proportional representation ballot.

There are 73.9-million ballot papers that were distributed by blue light police escort to metro, city and dorpie. They are vastly different, to capture local contests, meaning that the IEC had to print 4,649 unique ballots for the 2016 local government elections.

While voters in the eight metros get just two ballots – one for a ward candidate, another for a political party to take up the proportional representation seats in council – everyone elsewhere will get another ballot to pick a political party for the relevant district council.

According to the rules, 40% of district councillors are directly elected, and the remaining 60% of seats in each of country’s 44 district councils are nominated by the local councils falling under a specific district council.

Alongside the ballots, mountains of pens and bottles of ink have been distributed alongside 153,000 ballot boxes and 133,000 ballot booths.

On the IEC’s Don’t Do list is taking a photo of, or selfie with, the marked ballot papers. Instead, voters are encouraged to take a photo of their marked thumb – and post it on social media under #Ivoted.

Also a no-no are weapons. Political party T-shirts are somewhat more complicated: no voter wearing gear of his or her preferred choice can be turned away at a voting station. However, no party regalia of any type is allowed for political party agents who are part of the elections process and ultimately sign off on a voting station’s count. No campaigning may happen at voting stations, nor may protests take place.

To keep a watchful eye, the SAPS said it would deploy 50,480 members at voting stations. In addition, 45,224 police officers will be in vehicles to monitor the voting day’s progression.

Last week acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane announced that two police officials would be posted at each of the 20,634 voting stations categorised as low risk. The 1,328 medium-risk voting stations would receive an additional 5,312 police officials between them and the 650 high-risk voting stations another 3,900.

But it may just be that the weather that plays a role on the day. Rain is forecast across the southern half of the country: there’s a 60% chance of rain from Cape Town to East London (Buffalo City), and a slightly lower chance of afternoon rain in Durban, according to the weatherman – and generally cold conditions elsewhere.

On the eve of voting day there were 30 complaints. And at the end of the two-day special votes period, the IEC announced that in two cases presiding officials were “summarily dismissed” over serious breaches such as allowing voters who were not given special votes to cast their ballots, and failing to secure ballot boxes.

On Tuesday evening IEC chairman Vuma Mashinini said all was in place for what was South Africa’s biggest poll yet. “We are confident all preparations necessary are in place… for free, fair, peaceful 2016 municipal elections.” DM

Photo: Some of the millions of South Africans queue to vote in the early morning light at a church in the poor slum of Alexandra Township for the local elections, Johannesburg, South Africa, 18 May 2011. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

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